Today the Office for National Statistics published figures revealing almost 600 people died while homeless in England and Wales last year. Changing Lives' Director Becky Elton responds to these findings, and stresses that the key to reducing the number of people dying while homeless is to reduce homelessness in all its forms.

The shocking statistics on the number of people who die, and die young, whilst experiencing homelessness are awful, but not unexpected. More people are dying whilst homeless because more people are homeless.

Let’s not get diverted by blaming Spice or anything else. Fundamentally, more people are homeless and homelessness is terrible for your health. It’s not just about the effect of using drugs or alcohol, it’s also about the physical strain of being cold and sleeping badly, poor nutrition, lack of access to health services and the impact it has on your mental health.

At Changing Lives we support people to get off the streets and into accommodation and we work hard to help people get access to health services – both individually and in partnership with local GPs so they have a wider understanding of barriers to accessing health services. And, after support to see and build on their own strengths, lots of people do plot their own path out of homelessness and back into communities. But for those who don’t, we conduct a review every time someone who uses our services dies, to see what we and partners can learn and change to prevent future deaths. We ask for serious case reviews when we think there is learning for the wider system. We mourn the people that didn’t make it and question ourselves on what we could have done differently.

It is important that we focus on the deaths of people experiencing homelessness, and we welcome the government pledge to review all deaths. However, we must also focus on preventing homelessness, and our solutions must be more than just by getting people off the streets and into temporary accommodation.

We must focus on the structural causes of homelessness and why homelessness has increased over the past 8 years. It’s complex but not intractable – investment in genuinely affordable housing, investment in drug treatment services that meet the needs of people who are homeless and focus on recovery rather than maintenance, access to mental health services, youth work with young people at risk, and making the benefits system work for the people who need it are all entirely possible. We can reduce the number of people dying young because of homelessness by reducing homelessness in all its forms.

The question is, can we turn around the damage done by 8 years of cuts to the services that would prevent people dying?

Read the full report from the Office for National Statistics here: https://www.ons.gov.uk/releases/deathsofhomelesspeopleinenglandandwales

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